LIMA — For Lima Mayor David Berger, while there is still much to do, the city of Lima is moving in a positive direction after overcoming significant hardships. For mayoral candidate Keith Cheney, the level of poverty and crime in the city, as well as an an anti-business mindset perpetuated by city administration, is a sign of poor leadership and it is time for a change.
Those were the central messages projected by both mayoral candidates during a debate held Tuesday at St. Luke Lutheran Church. Sponsored by Lima-Allen County Neighborhoods in Partnership, the debate featured questions submitted by the audience in advance, ranging from neighborhood concerns to the economy and jobs to crime and law enforcement issues.
With LACNIP being the umbrella organization for area neighborhood associations, neighborhood concerns were among the first questions posed to both candidates, with both voicing support for the work of neighborhood associations.
“They have been a terrific asset to our community,” Berger said. “Without LACNIP and the neighborhood associations, thousands of man hours of work would not get done. The city’s role in this is to foster the ongoing efforts of these organizations.”
“At one time, we had seven or eight neighborhood associations, and today, we have four,” Cheney said. “We need to build them up into every sector of our city and give them the tools to where we can work with them to foster improvements to our neighborhoods, from housing to property maintenance.”
Both candidates echoed sentiments voiced in previous debates on the economy, with Berger pointing to Lima having its best economy in 40 years with more than 1,000 jobs available and Cheney decrying the level of poverty and crime in the city.
“Every business in our town is growing,” Berger said. “In industrial business, in the medical field, in education, the growth is terrific.”
“According to the United States Census Bureau, in 1990, Lima had a 21 percent poverty level, and in 2016, it had a poverty level of 32 percent,” Cheney said. “That’s one out of every three people.”
While Berger again applauded the “active” partnerships between the city and surrounding area to foster construction and growth, Cheney again accused administration of creating roadblocks to business expansion, saying it was forcing businesses to work “at the speed of government” when it came to inspections.
“In a Keith Cheney administration, we will have a 24/7/365 inspection department at no higher cost because of a business plan that I have used for years called flex time,” he said. “We will do everything humanly possible to assist you in building your business and expanding in our city.”
Cheney also expressed disapproval of the current community-oriented policing model in use by the Lima Police Department, saying that rather than having officers in set locations, they should be out “walking the beat” and engaging with the public in that way. Berger countered by saying the program has been well-received and officers are engaging with the community.
“They’re not sitting in that office with their feet up waiting for folks to come in,” he said. “They’re out there knocking on doors.”